During my years of living in the Grand Haven area, I’ve become familiar with some of those organizations. I served on the board of directors for The Salvation Army and American Red Cross, so I am familiar with the good work done by those two organizations. I know there are a number of charitable organizations that do excellent work but don’t get as much recognition as some of the larger organizations.
One of the organizations that fit that category is P.E.T. West Michigan, a faith-based organization that builds hand-driven carts for children living in Third World countries.
P.E.T. stands for Personal Energy Transportation. This organization builds hand-powered carts for children who have lost use of their feet or legs. It is one of 23 P.E.T. affiliates in the United States.
I learned about this fine organization from a friend, Jack Perko, a retired engineer who makes his home in Spring Lake Township. Perko is among a group of retirees who volunteer their time to build the carts for disabled children throughout the world.
I had the opportunity to visit the organization’s new home in Holland late last month during an open house at its new facility.
P.E.T. West Michigan was launched in July 2009 at a small facility on Sixth Street in Holland. Al Kindig, who serves as board secretary for the organization, was one of the original organizers. Kindig, who also is a retired engineer, said he was looking for a way to give back to his community when he heard about the national P.E.T. organization and began to learn more about the organization. He liked what he heard and decided to begin a P.E.T. operation in Holland. He traveled to Florida to undergo training and then began the process of helping to set up an organization in West Michigan.
The Holland-based organization is unique because it is the only P.E.T. organization in the United States that builds carts for children.
Kindig said his organization began by building five carts a week. At the new facility, P.E.T. can now manufacture 10 carts a week, and could manufacture more with additional funding.
Volunteers have set up a well-organized assembly line. Each volunteer is assigned to a station. They are painted with bright colors that appeal to children. Once assembled, the carts are thoroughly inspected. After the carts pass muster, they are disassembled and prepared for shipping to Third World countries.
Kindig said P.E.T. has a distribution system in place that handles shipping and delivery of the carts. Some service clubs overseas are involved in the delivery system
It costs about $300 to build and ship one cart. P.E.T. West Michigan partners with a number of businesses to purchase parts at discounted prices. The organization relies strictly on donations.
Because P.E.T. West Michigan is staffed by all volunteers, 100 percent of the donations go toward construction of the carts.
The demands exceed the volunteers’ ability to manufacture the carts. Kindig said according to the World Health Organization, more than 23 million people are leg/feet handicapped. He said it is estimated that 1.8 million of those are children.
Kindig also told me that there are about 20 million unexploded land mines throughout the world. Many of the children who receive carts have lost a foot or leg from an active land mine. Many Third World children have also been impacted by birth defects and debilitating diseases.
Many of the disabled children live in areas that wheelchairs won’t work. The carts can help the children be mobile. The hand-cranked, three-wheeled carts are all-terrain and can take children through areas that are not wheelchair accessible.
P.E.T. West Michigan receives the majority of its donations from individuals. Volunteers also visit area churches and service clubs to explain the work they do.
Kindig, Perko and the other volunteers are enjoying the opportunity to help others.
“We’re like a family here,” Kindig said.
As the organization continues to expand its operations, they are also hoping for more donations.
For more information about P.E.T. West Michigan or to make a donation, you can visit its website at www.petwestmichigan.org or call 616-396-2031.